Being such a huge fan of writer/director Christopher Nolan, this is a surprisingly difficult review to write. Dunkirk is unlike any film I have seen before. It is visual storytelling at its finest, with such little dialogue I can barely recall more than two or three lines after seeing the film for a second time. Nolan’s vision of a war film is also unique in itself since it does not focus on the brutal and gory aspects of war, but rather the never-ending sense of doom the soldiers felt on that beach. The director himself said that he decided early on not to show the more graphic horrors of war because, after what Spielberg did with Saving Private Ryan, there was no point in tackling it. I couldn’t agree with him more.
From a distance, Dunkirk seems like Nolan’s most grounded work, and it still may be. However, he has put a clever twist on the film in the way he plays with the timeline. Looking at the Dunkirk evacuation from three different perspectives – land, sea, and air – Nolan weaves together three different storylines for 90 minutes until finally bringing them together in one intense and emotional sequence. Our men on the ground (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Stiles, Aneurin Barnard) were there for a week; our men on the sea (Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Barry Keoghan) were on the boat for a day; and our men in the air (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) were there for an hour. We see these events take place simultaneously, often seeing the same event from a different point-of-view. While the timeline may sound confusing, it never distracts from the film and sometimes even adding to the tension. Dunkirk starts out at a high point of anxiety and continues that feeling, often raising the pressure level to its peak, all hauntingly scored by Hans Zimmer. This isn’t a war film where soldiers are sitting around talking about their lives back home, there isn’t time for that. Every man’s goal is to survive and they are constantly fighting towards that goal. You get to know these characters through their actions, not their words, and you truly put yourself in their shoes as they experience a cavalcade of terrifying tribulations.
Dunkirk feels like the film Christopher Nolan has been working up to his entire career. It ties together the jaw-dropping action sequences of his Dark Knight Trilogy, the time-bending narrative of Inception and Interstellar, and visual storytelling of Following. Doubling-down on his love for film and the IMAX format over digital photography, Nolan and his cinematographer were able to shoot around 75% of the film in true IMAX format. This gives the audience (who dare venture out to see it on a true IMAX screen) the best picture and sound quality possible today. The comparison to IMAX film vs. normal 35mm film is drastic. Seeing this on a true IMAX screen is an absolute must and adds greatly to the experience of the film itself. As with most Nolan movies, you want to see this on the biggest screen possible. The filmmaking prowess behind this film alone makes it unique, especially by today’s standards. With the director’s insistence on practical effects, the film itself is much more visceral and the stakes feel even higher for our characters. Every dogfight in the air was shot for real – real spitfires, real pilots, real crash landings. The aerial sequences in this film are absolutely amazing.
Seeing Dunkirk on an IMAX screen ranks as one of the best movie-going experiences of my lifetime. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation is a little-known part of history for those of us in the USA, but nonetheless a very harrowing and unique one. It’s an intense and one-of-a-kind film that consistently shows you something you’ve never seen before. Director Christopher Nolan gives us one of his best, most emotional films yet and what could easily be the best film of 2017.
Rating: PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes